NUR-SULTAN -- Several Kazakh activists have been handed jail terms for taking part in unsanctioned rallies against Chinese investment just days ahead of a planned anti-government demonstration.
The activists were handed jail terms of between seven and 15 days in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, and the Central Asian state's largest city, Almaty, for participating in the rallies on September 4.
Human rights observers said the jailing of the activists is likely linked to a plan of the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) opposition movement to hold anti-government protests on September 21.
"The situation reminds me of the sudden arrests of many activists on June 3-4 right before mass protests against the results of the June 6 early presidential election," Bota Alzhanova of Kazakhstan's Qaharman human rights movement told RFE/RL in reference to a wave of demonstrations across Kazakhstan that were held to protest the lack of fairness in a snap presidential poll.
The DVK is led by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a vocal critic of the Kazakh government who lives in self-imposed exile in France. He is wanted by Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine on suspicion of embezzling some $5 billion.
Last year, a Kazakh court sentenced Ablyazov in absentia to life in prison for murder, a charge he has also denied and labeled politically motivated.
That ruling came after another Kazakh court had sentenced Ablyazov to 20 years in prison in absentia after convicting him of organizing and leading a criminal group, as well as abuse of office, embezzlement, and financial mismanagement.
Ablyazov has denied all of the charges and accusations, calling them politically motivated.